Are We Having Fun Yet?

by Shana Montesol Johnson

“I’m not having any fun!” whined my 5-year-old daughter with a pout.  It was a complaint I heard repeatedly on our recent family vacation in Bali.  No matter that she’d been having a blast five minutes before, marveling at the antics of monkeys or splashing in the hotel pool.  She was not enjoying that particular moment, and she was not happy about it.

My immediate reaction as a parent was to teach her two core truths:

1)      Life is not always fun.  Get used to it.

2)      You make your own fun.

Over the next few days, I busied myself imparting these gems to her, in various ways.  Yet late one night, as I lay in bed listening to the bullfrogs and other wildlife inhabitants of the Balinese rice field adjacent to our hotel room, I started questioning…

Could it be a good thing to be able to recognize what is fun and what is not fun?

This ability comes naturally to us as kids (as evidenced by my daughter’s frequent refrain), yet over time, we seem to lose this skill.  Or rather, maybe we forget to tap into our innate ability to determine what is fun and what is not.

Do we become so convinced – perhaps by a well-meaning parent like me? – that we should not expect life to be fun all the time, so that:

1)      We accept more “un-fun” moments than we should, and

2)      We stop trying to make our own fun?

Take work, for example.  In our culture, “work” is certainly not synonymous with “fun.” We see it as a necessary evil.  It pays the bills.  It’s what responsible adults do.  So we get up early, and make the commute, and put up with our jerk of a boss, and do the best we can.  And yeah, there are a few things we enjoy about work, but those are few and far between.  But jobs aren’t for enjoying anyway…are they?

I believe that if our work is fun for us, we will: enjoy it more; excel more at it; and make a bigger impact through it than if work is mere drudgery to us.  (This is not my original idea – management guru and pioneer Peter Drucker wrote early on about knowing and playing to our strengths, and Marcus Buckingham has built an impressive body of work around the idea of a strengths-based life.)

“Fun” means different things to different people. One of my coaching clients jumps at any chance to build databases, and solve problems that have, as she puts it, “a clear right or wrong answer.”  (Although this is not a core part of her job, she seeks out these projects because she finds them fun and rewarding.  She’s found this is a way to love the job she’s got.)  Another client loves bringing together a team of super-smart, committed people to collaborate on a tough policy problem.  (She kept this in mind when embarking on a job search recently, to ensure that her next job is fun-filled.)  Yet another client relishes telling the story of what effective aid and development organizations have accomplished “in such a way that the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck stand on end.”

Through my own personal experience, and through my coaching clients, I’ve witnessed the amazing results of doing what you love. When people identify what they find fun at work – activities that are sufficiently challenging, yet not overwhelming; that are engrossing, making you lose track of time; that feel like play – and then seek these out (or create them, as needed), powerful things happen.

They are fulfilled.

They achieve remarkable results.

Their boss / organization / stakeholders are happy.

A win/win/win.  And fun, to boot.

So what if it starts out with a bit of old-fashioned complaining and/or childlike whining?  Knowing when we’re “not having any fun” – and doing something about it – can lead to some amazing things.


What do you find fun at work?  Let me know in the Comments section below.

Photo by Ambro /

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